Only days after the European Union’s top diplomats in Jerusalem and Ramallah publicly condemned Israel’s continued settlement expansion in the occupied Palestinian West Bank and called for state-level boycotts, divestment, and sanctions against it, the EU itself drew attention for funding one of the most notorious settlement enterprises.
On Tuesday The Independent published a letter from an impressive list of 21 British scientists and public figures, including filmmakers Mike Leigh and Ken Loach. They wrote:
It is extraordinary, but true, that one of our great national museums is co-ordinating an activity that breaks international law. That museum is the Natural History Museum, which is collaborating in research with an Israeli commercial firm located in an illegal settlement in the Palestinian West Bank.
The firm is Ahava/Dead Sea Laboratories, whose business is manufacturing cosmetics out of mud, which it excavates from the banks of the Dead Sea. Ahava/DSL is located at Mitzpe Shalem, a settlement 10km beyond the Green Line. The collaboration with the Museum is through an EU-funded project called Nanoretox, in which Kings College London, Imperial College and a number of foreign institutions are also involved. The museum is the coordinating partner for this project.
Ahava/DSL is based on occupied territory. It extracts, processes and exports Palestinian resources to generate profits that fund an illegal settlement. Israel’s settlement project has been held by the International Court of Justice to break international law. Organisations which aid and abet this process may well themselves be found to be in violation. We find it almost inconceivable that a national institution of the status of the Natural History Museum should have put itself in this position.
We call on the museum to take immediate steps to terminate its involvement in Nanoretox and to establish safeguards that protect against any comparable entanglement.
Following The Independent’s own story on the letter, coverage grew quickly. Articles have appeared in media ranging from Reuters and Press TV to Haaretz, The Jewish Chronicle, and the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, to say nothing of concerned grumbling from the The Jerusalem Post.
“I believe that the EU should not be allowed to fund companies that breach international law and so I have asked the commission to revise its research-funding regulations so that participating laboratories must declare the location of their research in order that, where that location is illegal, EU funding can be withheld,” says Keith Taylor, a British Green Party member of the European Parliament, who raised the questions about Ahava Dead Sea Laboratories in June 2011.
A spokesperson for the European Commission declined to comment on whether it would consider such changes in its next Framework Programme, called Horizon 2020. But in response to another question from Taylor, the Commission said on 13 September 2011 that it was “scrutinizing options to be able to evaluate and potentially address such a situation” under Horizon 2020.
Bateson says that Ahava Dead Sea Laboratories should not be eligible for Horizon 2020 funding as long as it continues to operate in the West Bank. “The initial mistake was at Brussels. They shouldn’t have allowed this to go ahead,” he says.
ScienceInsider wrote on the same day:
Ahava/DSL is involved in two other projects funded by Framework Programme 7, the main source of E.U. research funding. Last summer, research Commissioner Máire Geoghegan-Quinn responded to a query from the European Parliament about the company’s involvement in projects by saying that the company “is formally established within the borders of the internationally recognised State of Israel,” so that it meets the commission’s participation criteria. E.U. rules don’t stipulate that the research has to be carried out where the company is formally established, she added.
Jonathan Rosenhead, an emeritus professor of operational research at the London School of Economics who helped organize the letter, says he spoke with commission officials last year who were “clearly unaware” that the company had its operations in a settlement. “My guess and hope is that they tighten up their procedures” for the next major funding program, called Horizon 2020, which will start in 2014. A commission official says “the commission is currently scrutinizing options” to evaluate participants in Horizon 2020.
All of which raises an interesting question. With representatives of the EU’s own member states “call[ing] on the European commission to consider legislation ‘to prevent/discourage financial transactions in support of settlement activity’ … based on their illegality under international law,” can the same body possibly attempt to justify direct funding for the pillaging of Palestinian resources by those same illegal settlements – even until 2014?
Meanwhile the Stolen Beauty campaign, part of the global Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, continues to win impressive victories against Ahava. And considering the EU’s shady history of collaboration with Israeli apartheid, it is all but certain that only pressure from civil society can force it into any positive role – even in the face of unequivocal war crimes under the Fourth Geneva Convention.